To say it’s hot in Japan right now is an understatement. Earlier this week, temperatures in Tokyo hit 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit). Tokyo’s Hachioji suburb hit 39.1 Celsius (102F) – the location’s fourth-hottest day on record.
And it’s only mid-July, folks. Ugh.
With such heat, it’s critical that everyone protect their skin. So why do so many schools here prevent students from wearing sunscreen?
Dirty pools, burnt students
Parents in Japan have knocked Japanese schools for what some consider overly strict regulations before. Some schools place restrictions on everything from makeup to loose socks.
But some restrictions seem not only nonsensical, but dangerous.
The sunscreen ban falls into the latter category. A large number of schools ban its use on days when students have swimming classes. According to Ameba Times, 29.9% of elementary schools, 31.6% of middle schools, and a full 48.5% of high schools forbid using sunscreen on these days. The reasoning is that the sunscreen supposedly “pollutes” the pool water.
A retired teacher told Ameba Times that attitudes are changing. However, some older teachers still believe that a little sunburn is “good for one’s health.” You know…builds character and all that.
In reality, we know now that sunburn causes premature aging and wrinkling of the skin. Even worse, it increases your risk for melanoma – which is, as the Skin Cancer Foundation notes, “the deadliest form of skin cancer.” The Japan Society of Pediatric Dermatology agrees and calls for all schools in Japan to allow students to use water-resistant sunscreens.
The disconnect between traditional regulations and modern health advice has led to pitched battles between parents and schools. In one instance, a mother complained after her teacher scolded her for applying sunscreen surreptitiously. In other instances, students and parents have complained when they’ve caught teachers wearing sunscreen, despite forbidding it for the kids.
…and no coats in the winter!
This isn’t the first time insane school regulations have made headlines in Japan. In fact, this issue came up way back in (checks calendar)…six months ago.
While the summer is shaking out to be harsh in Japan, the winter was also especially cold. Despite this, some schools forbid students from wearing coats, as they weren’t a part of the school uniform. Others had even stranger rules, such as forbidding coats for boys but allowing them for girls.
Many female students also complained that their schools forbade them from wearing sweaters or cardigans, which some wanted to wear either to stay warm or just because they looked “cute”.
The “black regulations” surrounding hair
For many parents, these “black regulations” (ブラック校則; burakku kousoku) – school regulations enforced regardless of sense and circumstance – are a bridge too far. But they’ve been around, in some form, for around half a century.
As we’ve written before, Japanese schools cracked down on personal appearance in the 1970s and 1980s. Regulations around everything from hair to bans on after-school activities, like part-time jobs, were seen as necessary to crack down on hooliganism and school violence.
Some regulations that seemed sensible at the time haven’t aged well. Perhaps the best example is the rules surrounding hairstyles. Many schools insist that students not only keep their hair a certain length, but a certain color: black. Some will even force kids with lighter hair to dye it.
Such regulations impact kids of mixed-race backgrounds the hardest. One woman has written about how her school let her keep her natural blond-tinted hair color but dyed it black in her yearbook pictures without her consent. Japanese talent SHELLY, who has American and Japanese parents, has written on Twitter about being forced to dye her hair in her school days as well.
In a more recent case, a graduating high school senior in Hyogo Prefecture was prevented from joining his classmates at graduation when he wore his hair in cornrows. The student is Japanese and Black American and wanted to recognize his roots at the important life event.
Is a sunscreen ban even legal?
Some schools are changing their tune when it comes to “black regulations”. For example, the city of Fukuoka recently announced it’ll lift local school bans on ponytails and shaved sides (called ツーブロック, “two-block”, in Japanese).
As for the sunscreen ban, one lawyer warns it may not even be legal. Attorney Jinna Akira told the Ameba Times that “because there’s a risk to one’s health, limiting its use is inconsistent with society’s commonly held beliefs.”
There’s no sign yet of a fundamental shift by schools to relax their sunscreen restrictions. But with temperatures already creeping toward 40 degrees in mid-July, you can bet this topic won’t go away anytime soon.
What to read next
学校の「日焼け止め禁止」論争 柴田阿弥「先生がパーカーにサンバイザーで何なん？と」 “ブラック校則”を避ける・変えるには. Ameba Times
“冬なのにコート禁止” 校則に教育委員会は「総合的判断」…理不尽な学校のルール「ブラック校則」見直しは？【news23】TBS News Dig
なぜ禁止？学校での｢日焼け止め｣論争への大疑問. Toyo Keizai
Sunburn & Your Skin. Skin Cancer Foundation